Interview with Chloe Charles-Living for The Balance

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Submitted by Lenny Stoute

On a warm and damp January afternoon, Chloe Charles is working away in a café with a serious noise level. Not the environment you’d expect the singer/songwriter’s sensitive pieces to be born in. But then again, the lady doesn’t care much for meeting expectations.

“ I’m definitely not the sensitive songwriter type. I actually work best with a lot of noise and activity around me.”That’s likely the result of growing up in a large musical family, which includes one Cynthia Lennon as stepmom.In her teens, Chloe’s father married into a musical dynasty when he became the husband of Cynthia and stepfather of Julian Lennon. Becoming Lennon’s stepsister provided Chloe with an uncommon picture of the world and the place of celebrity within it, while firming up a passion to create and follow her own muse.

Full credit, she rarely deals with this unless it’s brought up and it likely doesn’t have much to do with her music, except, as she has noted, to introduce her to the universality of music at a formative stage in her life.

That she’s a café au lait stunner who looks like she hangs with Beyonce throws another contrary element into the mix. One listen to the songs on Break The Balance confirms that very little here has anything to do with current trends in r’n’b. Still and all,expectations being what they are, even in multi-culti Toronto, Charles’ home base, there will be stereotypical reactions.
“I still get those times when I meet someone and tell them I’m in music and they immediately assume I’m into either r’n’b or soul. I think it’s funny.“

“In Germany that was less of a thing than here; they’re just more accepting of my kind of open-ended sound. Here you need to be more of one thing than the other.”

The lady’s firm that she’s not ready to go down the ‘more one thing’ path anytime soon. That would be limiting the complexity of composition that’s one of her strengths and rests very much on a nuance-rich guitar playing style.

Charles stepped into the spotlight with 2010’s EP Little Green Bud, a string-draped statement of intent to popularize that music for which there is no genre. Rave reviews dropping the names of Amy Winehouse, Adele, Björk and Alicia Keys launched her into a dizzying round of touring, with 300 shows in 8 countries and a growing clamour for a full-length album. True to form, through all the chaos of touring and performing, Charles was busy working on the tunes that would become debut album Break The Balance.

“I’m very happy with it. It’s the album I wanted and I can’t wait to play it live with the band. (Producer) Duane Lundy and I started with 30, then narrowed that down to the final 12. They were a mix of the obvious ones that everybody liked and ones that were a little different, that I was excited about.“

“As to what I’d like from the album, I’d like for it to get me noticed, get me on the festival circuit, some bigger opening gigs and hopefully the attention of people I’d like to work with. I’m really into collaborations and two guys I’d love to work with would be Chilly Gonzales and composer Max Richter.

Fittingly, the arrangements are vocal-centric, extending to the way the ever-present strings are framed. Charles uses them as another voice, as emotional testuriser for her own. Vocal consistency is about the only thing holding the album’s songs together and Charles likes it that way.

“ I don’t think I’ve arrived at a style. I don’t think I’ll ever stop trying new things. This is my first album and I’m really excited about it. It’s perfect the way it turned out but I can’t see myself doing the same thing again.I hear you about the pressure of repeating a succes sful sound but I suppose I’ll deal with that when it happens.”

“I’m not consciously trashing the stereotype of the young black female vocalist 2013 but it seems that it’s part of the package. I can’t think of anyone else in Canada in my position doing what I’m doing.”

A valid point and we agree performers with the closest set of reference points would be Moneen and Santigold, black female artists who are changing shit up.At this point, it’s all about flipping the script and playing out the possibilities. The songs on Break The Balance invite us to join in looking at life from different perspectives, never knowing what you might find there.

Come Feb.13, Chloe Charles steps onto Revival’s spacious stage, backed by a full band, to give Break The Balance it’s first public airing.

Expect spine-tingling singing, crafty guitar slinging, jumping and stomping and touching storytelling.